Lamar Odom, one of the more sensitive players in the NBA, returned from one of the more bizarre leaves of absence in the NBA on Saturday. In terms of whether the chicken (his emotional turmoil) or the egg (his poor play) are to blame for the state of all things Lamar, we should probably think of a bizarre factory accident where a chicken straight up fell on an egg, making it hard to tell what's which.
And I'll be honest. I'm willing to let him off the hook for it. We're not going to be the columnist who lacks compassion. We're going to be, as we always have been, the columnist who makes way too many stupid historical references. Basketball is a game, albeit Lamar's job, for which he is well-compensated. Nobody's immume from the mentally unable to perform list. He was troubled and he didn't play well, but that's the past. The question is what the Mavs can expect from Lamar going forward?
And I would counter that with a time-traveling question: what did the Mavs expect from Lamar in the first place?
Confession #2: It always struck me as strange that there was SO MUCH fanfare for Lamar Odom and so little for Vince Carter. VC might be half the player he was, and Lamar had his best season ever last year, but Vince has been a better scorer than Lamar every year of their careers, except for last year, when Lamar's unexpectedly explosive performance qualified for John Hollinger's fluke rule. An axiom he is currently living out with the emphasis of Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer. Yes. It's true.
Here's the thing. If the true or false question is "can Lamar Odom put up points", the answer is "true"! If the question is "can Lamar Odom be a consistent scorer", the answer is ... false. Take a look at any month from last year and you'll see the occasional 20 point game around a whole lot of 16 point games and several 10-12 point games.
Take last February for example. LaModom, as we lovingly call him, then a presumably happy Laker, scored 20 points on Feb. 1, 16 on Feb. 3 and 9 on Feb. 5. He didn't top 15 the rest of the month, scoring in double digits five times and in single digits five times. In March, he scored 29 points in a crazy triple OT game against Phoenix (139-136), then didn't break 20 the rest of the month but scored over 10 all but 4 times.
That's the thing that I wasn't sure about for LaModom expectations. Has he been terrible offensively? Boy, absolutely. I've never seen a guy, besides JJ Barea, more often ignore everyone else to look at a three that never had a prayer of going in and then shoot it anyway. But it's not like scoring is the only part of the game, and it's not like the Mavs grabbed Odom to light up the scoreboard.
I submit that in terms of talent (not drive), Lamar Odom is every bit the Swiss Army knife that Shawn Marion is. He doesn't have, obviously, the Matrix's athleticism (or, again, heart). But he rebounds and defends, and the numbers say he's still doing that.
Last season he grabbed .27 rebounds every minute he was out there, and this season he's averaging .21 rebounds every minute. It's worse. But apocalyptically worse? Odom is fifth on the team in rebounds, behind Haywood, Dirk, Marion and Ian, despite playing fewer minutes than any of them but Ian. This is not necessarily something to be proud of on a Mavericks team that doesn't always get out-rebounded, but certainly always spreads the rebounds around. But, again, nearly everyone on the team is worse.
As for his D, MySynergySports.com tells us that opponents are shooting 36.3% against him, as opposed to 45.1% against Dirk. He's the No. 34 best isolation defender in the league right now, holding his opponents to 30.6% shooting in those situations. The pick-and-roll man is scoring 20% of the time on him. Spot-up shooters are hitting at 37.2%. He's been good. Sometimes very good.
The Mavericks got Lamar Odom to score, rebound and defend. That's whatever the exact opposite of a check is, check, check. And yes, we all have reason to be disappointed in Odom's play, as does Odom himself. However, we can separate just a little fact from fiction and note that while watching him on offense has been like watching Hayden Christiansen try to act, Odom has never actually been an offensive powerhouse, reputation aside. He's just looked good chipping in. And didn't have quite the habit of following up his bad offensive plays with silly, pointless fouls. And seemed to know what other players on his team were for. And so on.
There is no question that if the Dallas hopes to have success in a big way, this year, they need Lamar Odom to play like Lamar Odom, not Lamar Odom's sad brother who thinks a three-point shot is essentially flinging a line-drive, as hard as possible, at the exposed side of the rim. However, the Mavs need rebounding and defense just as much as offense, if not more, and on that end, Lamar has actually done some good work. If he can do better at all three, the sky is still the limit.
If Lamar Odom finds his place in the offense just like 50% more than he has been doing, the Mavs will be an entirely different team, and a much better one.
For more of Andy's musings on the Mavericks, head over to Mavs Moneyball.